Sheila Whatling Oniu, daughter of William and Kathleen Whatling of Redlingfield, who now lives in Texas, tells some of her childhood memories: As an eleven-year-old in 1942, we were in the middle of World War II, and of course we were used to seeing the B-17s taking off from Horham airbase where they were stationed. Each morning we would count them out and then in the evening we would count them back in again, looking for flares, either red or green.
My father, William Whatling, would go to the village pub in Redlingfield almost every night for a pint. It was during this time that he met this tall handsome GI from Texas. My father brought him to our home so that he could have a home to go to whenever he wanted. He became one of the family and called Mum and Dad “Mom and Pop.”
The GI who was part of our home, his name was Jack Hyatt Sr. Jack would ride his bicycle to our home when he was not flying. He was a waist gunner in the B-17. I remember his eyelashes were frozen off, but he was always joking about it as nothing bothered him. Always smiling and joking, my father and Jack would get on their bikes and hit the pubs in other villages.
One evening when we were counting the planes home, there was one missing. Yes, it was our Jack's plane. We were all very upset, not knowing what happened to him. And then ... several months later, I was looking out of the window, and there was Jack coming up the path. We could not believe our eyes. He was allowed to come back because he had a letter from England. He told them he had family here and so they let him come to see us before heading to the USA. He had been shot down over Holland, taken prisoner, and then sent to Stalag 15 in Germany until liberated. He spent his 21st birthday in Germany.
He was just a teenager when we met him, although by age only, as he was more like 18 going on 40. They do not make them like that anymore.
We lost Jack for many years, until in 1987 my sister bought her son a book titled Operational Record of the 95th Bomb Group by Paul Andrews. Jack's name was mentioned in this book. It was by contacting another author, Ian Hawkins, who was also mentioned in the book, that we were then able to track Jack down.
In 1992 he came back to England, but alas my parents had passed away. However, he was able to reunite with my brother David, my sister's Evie and Joan, and Evie's family - Dennis, Maureen, Mick, and Simon. He was so pleased to meet Evie's son Dennis whom he used to push around in a pram all those years ago, and also to visit the Red Feather Club and Horham and Redlingfield where my parents had lived.
Every family function I can remember up until the day we were reunited, Jack Hyatt's name was always spoken with great affection. But we never dreamed that one day we would be reunited with Jack and his family. He had even kept my mother's letters after all these years.
From then on, my family regularly visited Jack and his family in Texas, and likewise Jack and his family regularly visited us here in England. Jack had a son, Jack Hyatt Jr ... He also has two sisters, Debbie and Faye. It is wonderful to be able to walk down memory lane, and be united with these memories, and still have Jack as part of our family.
Many thanks to Sheila Whatling Oniu and the 95th Bomb Group memorials Foundation. I know there are more stories and pictures out there and, hopefully, I'll be able to cover them in the village magazine and village website. If you have pictures or memories of Redlingfield and surrounds during the wars or peace time please get in touch.